Nov 21
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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Pine Siskin (Left), American Goldfinch (Right). Photo courtesy of Nancy Castillo.

Purple Finch, male

The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest single travel day of the year, for people; but, what about birds? This year there are many out of town birds that are enjoying being backyard guests.

It’s already been an exciting season of new birds at feeders and more backyards are being visited every week. Check out the information below on the more irregular guests showing up at feeders.

Red-breasted Nuthatch (eBird location map)
With southward movement that began in mid-summer, they are being seen in all provinces and lower 48 states. Watch for them at feeders. They prefer seed blends with sunflower, peanuts and tree nuts and they like suet products.

Pine Siskin (eBird location map)
These opportunistic nomads are still moving into many areas. Watch for them at feeders; especially visiting with goldfinches. They prefer Nyjer and sunflower chips. Click here for identification clues to quickly determine if there are any Pine Siskin on your feeders.

Purple Finch (eBird location map)
Expect strong southward movement this year. Be aware that their numbers have been declining in recent decades. Watch for them at feeders. They prefer Nyjer and sunflower. Click here for identification clues to quickly determine which finches are on your feeders: House Finch, Purple Finch or Cassin’s Finch.

What out of town guest birds are entertaining you?

Nov 19
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I previously wrote about Red-breasted Nuthatches “irrupting” out of the North in the post, The Rusty Upside Down Bird. Since then, more have moved southward and they may be in your area. The big question is, “How do I get them to feeders?”

Below is an FAQ on Red-breasted Nuthatches.

Why are they moving southward?
There is a shortage of food to sustain them for the winter in the northern boreal forests this year. They are moving into areas to find a sustainable winter food source.

Where can I find them?
They prefer wooded areas, including neighborhoods. They will winter in an area ranging in size from two to eleven football fields. Check out an interactive map from to see where they have been spotted recently.

How can I entice them to feeders?
They prefer peanuts, sunflower seeds and tree nuts. They also really like suet products like Naturally Nuts and Bark Butter® Bits.

How long will they stay?
With reliable food sources, they are likely to stay all winter.

Do you have Red-breasted Nuthatches at your feeders? What are they eating?

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Oct 24
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Every few years there is an irruption of Pine Siskin out of the Northern Boreal Forests due to a lack of natural foods. This winter is shaping up to be a great year to see Pine Siskin at backyard feeders.

Often feeding with American Goldfinches, siskin are quite attracted to finch feeders that offer Nyjer®. They can also be seen eating sunflower chips from other feeders and, as finches do, drinking from birdbaths.

Pine Siskin, at first glance, are often assumed to be American Goldfinches when visiting feeders in winter. And for good reason. They are the same size and have similar winter color patterns. However, take a closer look and you can tell them apart. Here are some identification clues for quickly telling if there are any Pine Siskin on your feeder.

Pine Siskin

  • Heavily streaked head and body
  • Yellow or buff in the wing bars, wings, and base of tail
  • Thinner, more sharply pointed bill than goldfinch

American Goldfinch

  • No streaking
  • White or buff in the wing bars
  • White rump or base of tail

Check out the photo below. Can you spot any Pine Siskin?

American Goldfinch (top left)
Pine Siskin (lower three perches)

Top photo: Pine Siskin (left), American Goldfinch (right)
Photos by Nancy Castillo (co-owner Saratoga Springs, NY WBU store)

Click here to see where Pine Siskin are being spotted this season via It is an interactive map where you can zoom in, change dates and more.

Do you have Pine Siskin at your feeders?


Jan 18
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When we get hungry, we head to the refrigerator or pantry. When the stock gets low we head to the grocery store. Birds, like owls, don’t have the luxury of the grocery store. When food sources are low, owls move to “greener” pastures. That is exactly what is happening this winter with Snowy Owls.

Snowy Owls live in the Arctic feasting on their mainstay food source of lemmings. Lemmings, in the rodent family, have been described as little sausages with legs. When there are not enough lemmings and other prey to feed the owl population then the owls irrupt southward looking for more abundant food source.

It seems there was an abundance of lemmings during the owls’ breeding season last spring. In response, the owls laid more eggs than usual and the newly hatched owlets thrived. With winter’s approach, it seems there was not enough food sources to feed the increased population of owls. This caused many Snowies to leave, or irrupt south, to find food.

Like other owls, Snowy Owls have very good eyesight and hearing for hunting. They eat small rodents and rabbits as well as small birds and waterfowl like ducks and grebes. They will even catch fish to eat. They mostly hunt from a perch sitting and waiting for prey.

The Snowy Owls are expected to start moving back to the Arctic breeding grounds in February. They have been seen as far south as Oklahoma. Be sure to find out if they are in your area. Click here to see a dynamic map of January sightings on

What birds have you seen lately that seem out of the ordinary?

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